POCATELLO - Recent history pointed to a tough game for the Snake River Panthers as they prepared to take on the Bear Lake Bears Thursday night in an elimination game of the District 5 3A tournament. After all, Bear Lake had dominated the Panthers and the other teams in the fifth district all season, but that is why they play the games this time of year.
The Panthers played aggressively on the defensive end and took advantage of what the Bears game them offensively to take a 12-2 lead early in the opening quarter on their way to a 55-31 dismantling of Bear Lake. The win earned the Panthers a spot in a play in game on Saturday against Salmon for a berth in next week's state tournament.
"We came out in a match up zone and were very active in trying to deny them any open shots," said Coach Robert Coombs. "The kids came out focused and intense and the results showed on the defensive end."
Five different players scored in the opening stanza for Snake River as they shared the ball and took advantage of Bear Lake miscues.
"We came out with some intensity tonight," said senior C.J. Toulouse. "We wanted to attack the basket and we got some good looks and we kept after it."
After taking a 12-4 opening quarter lead, the Panthers tacked on another dozen in the second period, six of them on driving lay ups by sophomore Jacoby Johnson. By the time the two teams left the floor for the half time intermission, the Panthers had pushed the lead to double digits at 24-13.
"We had been in trouble against Bear Lake when we tried to play man to man against them earlier this year," said Coach Coombs. "Bear Lake is very quick and we wanted to force them out of their comfort zone."
The defense forced ten first half turnovers against the Bears, many of which resulted in easy buckets for the Panthers. Coupled with a poor shooting night by the Bears and Snake River was in control of the contest from the outset.
The second half started much the same way as the first half had ended. Snake River went to Johnson repeatedly and he responded with seven more points, including a three pointer from the top of the key.
"I tried to drive to the hole and finish strong at the basket," said Johnson. "But I was also trying to do what coach said and grab loose balls and rebounds."
The teams went to the final quarter with Snake River holding a 17 point lead at 37-20 and Bear Lake was forced to foul in an effort to close the gap. The Panthers calmly stepped to the charity stripe and knocked down 11 of 13 free throws in the period, 18 of 20 on the night, easily the best shooting night of the season.
"We are a good shooting team, but we have struggled from the line of late," said Coach Coombs. "It was nice to see the guys step up tonight and hit those shots tonight."
The win pushed Coach Robert Coombs win total at Snake River to a magical number of 300 in eighteen years of coaching at the school. Number 301 will give the Panthers their fifteenth state tournament berth in his tenure at the helm of the program.
"This win was for Coach Coombs," said C.J. Toulouse. "He has always been so supportive of us and has really coached us up over the years."
SRHS 12 12 13 18 55
BLHS 4 9 7 11 31
Snake River (55) Jacoby Johnson 18, Keegan Keller 7, Braden Watt 4, Cole Rushton 4, Candon Watt 7, C.J. Toulouse 10, Brad Coombs 3 rebounds (31) Johnson 9, C.J. Toulouse 9 assists (14) Johnson 4, C. Watt 4 FT 18/20 3 pt FG 3/8 Johnson 2, Toulouse 1 total fouls (16) fouled out - none Technical Fouls - Hrabik
Bear Lake (31) Porter Wallentine 4, Jordan Bills 5, Trent Michael 4, Derrick Gunderson 4, Brady Pitchford 4, Dee Petersen 4, Clayton Harris 4, Brent Alleman 2 rebounds (17) Bills 5, Gunderson 5 assists (6) Bills 3 FT 10/17 3 pt FG 1/8 Bills 1 total fouls (16) fouled out - none